Benjamin Franklin Thomas.

Speeches in the second and third sessions of the Thirty-seventh Congress, and in the vacation (Volume 2) online

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that you shall not permit the mere letter of the law,
which to-day tlirows upon them all the weight and bur-
dens of the Government, to stand m the way of the
exercise of their dearest and most sacred rights, the
rights which bind them to you, and make them of you.

'Mi. Speaker, permit me to make one other practical
suggestion to the House ; and that is, that the only way
in which you can reconstruct this Government is by the
co-operation of the loyal men in the seceded States. If
you mean to go a step further, and try to bring these
States under absolute subjection, wipe them out of exist-
ence, and reconstruct them accordmg to your will and
pleasure and not theh rights, you have taken upon your-
self a task which you have not the power to execute,
and which, if you had, woidd result m the overthrow of
your liberties as well as thehs. No government would
be a fit instrument for such a work but a military despot-
ism. History gives us no hope in such a war. But if,
on the other hand, you expect, as it seems to me every


rational man must expect, to reconstruct the Govern-
ment with the sympathy, co-operation, and aid of the
loyal men of these States, then I ask you, in the name of
prudence and of justice, not to shut the doors of this
House against them. Do not, I beseech you, teach them
the terrible lesson, that your powers are effective to
destroy, but not to redeem ; to crush, but not to save.
Meet them at the threshold ; welcome and bless them as
they seek once more the shelter of the old homestead.




The House resumed, as the regular order of business, the conside-
ration of the bill of the Senate (No. 511) for enrolling and calling out
the national forces, and for other purposes.

Mr. Thomas obtained the floor.

The Speaker. The gentleman from New York hav-
ing already spoken, and not being the mover or intro-
ducer of the proposition, cannot speak again without the
leave of the House. The gentleman from Massachu-
setts [Mr. Thomas] is entitled to the floor.

Mr. Baker. Will the gentleman from Massachusetts
yield to me for a moment ?

Mr. Thomas, No, sir : I cannot yield for any pur-
pose. I have but twenty minutes.

Mr. Holm AN. I rise to a point of order. I sought
the floor at the time the gentleman from New Y.ork
[Mr. Olin] did, and raised upon him the point of order
which has been disposed of by the Chair ; and I think,
therefore, I am entitled to the floor.

The Speaker. The Chair did not understand the
gentleman from Indiana as claiming the floor, but only
as raising the question of order. If the gentleman
raised it desiring to speak himself, he is entitled to the


Mr. Holm AN. I understand that the gentleman from
Kentucky [Mr. Crittenden] and the gentleman from
Massachusetts [Mr. Thomas] desire to be heard on this
bill, and I am unwilling to occupy the time of the House
while those gentlemen desire to speak. I will, there-
fore, yield to those gentlemen ; and I now resign the
floor to the gentleman from Massachusetts.

Mr. Thomas. Mr. Speaker, I thank my friend from
Indiana [Mr. Holman] for his great courtesy in yield-
ing to me the floor. I rejoice, with exceeding joy, that
I have no party interests to represent, no party topics
to discuss. I have heard with sorrow, not to say dis-
gust, the voices of discord and bitter strife from both
sides of the House. If the spirit of party cannot be
subdued or chastened in the presence of our imminent
peril, God save the country ; for he only can.

In the few remarks I shall have time to submit to the
House, I would look directly to the merits of the mea-
sure before us. Mr. Speaker, this is a terrible bill;
terrible in the powers it confers upon the Executive,
terrible in the duty and burden it imposes upon the citi-
zen. I meet the suggestion by one as obvious and as
cogent ; and that is, that the exigency is a terrible one,
and calls for the use of all the powers with which the
Government is invested.

Some of the features of the bill my judgment con-
demns, unhesitatingly condemns.

The period for which the service is required is unrea-
sonably long. I think the enrolment should not include
judges of the State courts, or ministers of the gospel,
or members of Congress of either branch ; though the



inclusion of members of Congress would be, T think,
simply void. I earnestly object also to the provision of
the bill for the arrest of civilians by the military power ;
but I understand that gentlemen upon my right will
consent to an amendment which shall strike out that
feature. But, saving these objections, I think the
bill is within the scope of the Constitution, and neces-
sary and just.

First, the question of power. Congress has power to
" declare war." A necessary incident to this power
would be that of raising and supporting armies. But
the power to " raise and support armies " is given in
terms. No limitation is imposed as to the numbers to
be raised, or the mode of raising. In the nature of
things, such limitation could not be imposed. The
power must be broad enough to meet all possible exi-
gencies ; and the possible exigencies of the country no
man or prophet could foresee. The powers of Con-
gress within their scope are supreme, and strike directly
to the subject, and hold him in their firm and iron
grasp. I stand by the opinion, early expressed upon
this floor, that there is not a human being, domiciled
within the territory of the United States, black or wlyte,
bond or free, whom the Government may not use for its
military service, whenever the defence of the country
requires ; and of this exigency Congress alone must

Is the exercise of the power to raise armies made
dependent upon the consent of the individual citizen %
I say, clearly not. " Government is not hijfuence,'" said
Washington ; it is not moral suasion. That only is gov-


ernment which can command obedience and enforce it.
The duty of the citizen to defend the State is admitted.
Does the discharge of that duty depend upon his will
and discretion, or the will and discretion of the Gov-
ernment ? If upon the former, the objection is fatal
even to any militia law : if upon the latter, the extent,
and mode of use, are questions for Congress only.

The question was asked half a century ago, whether,
under the power to support armies, Government could
take property without consent ; and, if not, how it was,
that, under the power to raise armies, you can take
men without consent. I answer, that very clearly, for
the support of the war, you may take the property of
the subject without his consent, but not without com-
pensation ; for the fifth article of the Amendments has
put this limitation upon your power.

Under the " Articles of Confederation," Congress had
not power to raise armies, though it had to build and
equip a navy. Its duty was to agree upon the number
of land forces, and to make requisitions upon each State
for its quota (Art. 9). But the men who framed the
Constitution, knew, by the experience of the Revolu-
tion, how defective and inadequate was such power, and
that, whatever possible danger there might be in the
grant of the power without limitation, any limitation
might prove fatal to the national defence. The power
was therefore given to raise armies without qualification ;
and, though the subject of much bitter complaint and
criticism in the State Conventions, to-day at least its
necessity is plain to all men.

Having the power to raise and support armies, and


the exigency existing in which the use of that power is
necessary, the question arises, whether the powers given
to Congress and the States, with respect to the militia,
qualify and restrain the power to raise and support
armies. Very clearly not, Mr. Speaker. They are dis-
tinct, independent powers. The militia is a branch of
service well understood in the mother-country and our
own, to be called forth " to execute the laws, suppress
insurrections, and repel invasions." It was not designed
for permanent service, but to meet special exigencies,
and for brief periods of time.

Much has been said, though without much reflection,
about the very " unpatriotic " course of the Government
of Massachusetts with respect to the use of the militia
in the war of 1812. The opmion of the Supreme
Court of Massachusetts of that day proceeded, as I recol-
lect it, upon the ground, that, the purposes of the militia
being to suppress insurrection and repel invasion, the
militia of the State could not be required by the Federal
Executive to go beyond the limits of the State. To that
view I do not assent ; but it is, I think, quite plain, they
are not, in the light of the Constitution, a part of the
army of the United States : they are to be enrolled and
organized for the purposes stated in the Constitution,
and for no other.

This unqualified power to raise and support armies is
given us to meet an hour and an exigency like this.

The gentleman from Kentucky [Mr. Wickliff"e] says
that the army is made up, and has been made up, by
volunteer enlistments, and that you never have " con-
scripted" men into the army. Doubtless, such has


heretofore been the practice ; but the exigency never
before arose when it was necessary to conscript men
into an army. The exigency does not confer new
powers, but evokes them into service. At this moment,
the question, whether we shall use this power, is not one
of expediency merely ; not what is best. It is, in effect,
a question, to this nation, of life or death. We literally
have no choice.

Gentlemen upon my right (the Republican side of
the House) know that it is my conviction, that all the
vaunted panaceas for our troubles have failed, utterly
failed. I expected them to fail. I attempted in vain
to satisfy the House, that it was leaning upon reeds
shaken by the wind. My earnest, repeated suggestions
were, of course, unheeded ; but the results are too
palpable to be overlooked or mistaken, and reason is
slowly re-ascending the steps of its throne. Pray God
it may not be too late.

The policy inaugurated on the 1st of December, 1861,
has been fruitless of good : it has changed the ostensi-
ble, if not real, issue of the war. That policy, and the
want of persistent vigor in our military counsels, render
any further reliance upon voluntary enlistments futile.
The nostrums have all failed. Confiscation, emancipa-
tion by Congress, emancipation by the proclamation of
the President, compensated emancipation, arbitrary ar-
rests, paper made legal tender, negro armies, will not
do the mighty work. Nothing will save us now but vic-
rories in the field and on the sea ; and then the proffer
of the olive branch, with the most liberal terms of
reconciliation and re-union. We can get armies in no


other way but by measures substantially those in the bill
before us, unless the Administration will retrace its
steps, and return to the way of the Constitution, for us
the strait and narrow way which leads unto life. The
war on paper is at an end. The people have, for a
time, been deluded by it. That delusion exists no
longer. If you are to suppress this Rebellion, all mstru-
mentalities will fail you but the power of your own
right arm.

Mr. Speaker, the measures and policy heretofore pur-
sued have not been merely fruitless of good ; they have
been fruitful of evil : they have made, or largely contri-
buted to make, a united South; they have made a
divided North ; they have alienated from the Adminis-
tration the confidence and affection of large portions of
the people ; they have paralyzed your arm, and divided
your counsels. Gentlemen flatter themselves this alien-
ation and disaffection are the work of the Democrats ;
that the people have been misled and deceived by their
wiles. Sir, the people of this country read, and keep
their eyes open, and comprehend ; and the plain fact is,
you cannot unite them upon the policy you now pursue.
They do not believe in destroying the Union and Con-
stitution in the hope of building up better by force of
arms. You may unite them on the issue of maintaining
the Union and the Government at every price and cost,
but upon no other.

Having distracted the public mind, having alienated to
a great degree the affection and confidence of the coun-
try, what is left to you ? To resort to those constitutional
powers vested in you for the preservation of the Gov-


ernment which you have in trust, and which you must
use, or be false to that trust. Gentlemen say the peo-
ple will not bear this measure. I will not believe it. I
believe the people of this country are ready to do and
to endure every thing for the preservation of their unity,
their national life, and, through that unity and that
national life, all that makes life precious to men : they
will submit to it. In view of the infinite interests at
stake in this great controversy ; in the solemn conviction
that there is to-day no hope of peace except in disinte-
gration ; that, as a nation, we must conquer in arms, or
perish ; they will meet and respond to this imperative
call of duty. Such is my hope and trust.

But, Mr. Speaker, suppose they hesitate ; suppose
they do not submit: you can but try; you have no
other hope. The negro will not save you ; paper
money will not save you ; your infractions of personal
liberty will not save you. If the illegal and unnecessary
arrests are persisted in, in the peaceful and loyal States,
they will ruin you. Go firmly to the people, and pre-
sent to them the real issue : they will understand the
terrible exigency in which the country is placed ; and
they will be true to that country, if you show clearly to
their comprehension the length and breadth and height
and depth of that exigency. Mr. Speaker, the issue
must be met at all hazards. If the people will not
support you, if they will not do this highest act of duty,
the days of this Republic are numbered, the end is
nigh. Satisfy them that you mean to be true to the
Constitution and the Union, and they wiU be true to
you, and will uphold and save you.


The issue, I repeat, must be met. You die without
this measure : you can no more with it, except you die,
as cowards die, many times. I go, therefore, for appeal-
ing from panaceas and make-shifts to this highest, most
solemn, and imperative duty of the citizen to protect
the life of the State.




Mr. Speaker, — The most careless observer of the
signs of the times will not have failed to notice
the attacks, frequent, persistent, ubiquitous, upon the
history, character, and policy of New England. The
evidence of union and concert in these attacks is plain ;
and, what is very significant, the concert includes the
politicians and presses of the States in arms against us.
The aim and purpose of these attacks are palpable.
They are not for counsel, rebuke, chastening: to these
we might give heed for possible good. The obvious pur-
pose of this war of words is to create a feeling of bitter
hostiUty to New England in the Western and Middle
States (the traitors in arms against the Union hate her
now with sufficient intensity) ; to force the conviction
upon those States, that the character and policy of New
England are such, that the good-will and harmony of
the country cannot be maintained while she forms part
of the Union ; and to bring about a reconstruction on
the basis of the Confederate Government, slavery for
its corner-stone, and " New England left out in the

The element of the New-England character and
policy, which, it is averred, makes union with her intole-



rable and impracticable, is her Puritanism. In an age
of discoveries, that discovery is the most remarkable.
After Puritanism has been upon the continent two cen-
turies and a half, building up free institutions ; after
union with it for three generations, its light following
the light of the sun, and kindling the western horizon
with new glory ; after having suffered and toiled with it,
and been inspired by it through the Revolution ; after
having enjoyed with it, or in spite of it, for seventy-four
years, the freest and most beneficent Government the
Divine Ruler ever permitted to man ; the country learns,
with surprise, it has all the while been under the sad-
dest of delusions ; that what it had fondly believed a
" spirit of health," is, in truth, a " goblin damned ; " that
New England is a diseased limb of our body politic,
that must be severed, or the whole body perish.

With scarcely less surprise, if at a time like this we
have a right to be surprised at any thing, do we observe
by whom these assaults upon New England are made.
By those who claim to be the especial friends of the
democratic institutions which Puritan hands planted and
Puritan tears watered in the wilderness of the New
World. By the especial friends of personal liberty, of
which, under the Tudors and Stuarts, the Puritans were
the depositaries ; and of which, from that day to this,
they have been the vigilant and zealous defenders. By
the especial friends of the Union, which germinated
on the New-England soil, and of which the humble con-
federation of the New-England Colonies was the fore-
runner and the prophecy. By the especial friends of
the Constitution, which, in the hour of its past perils,


has found in Xew-England statesmen some of its firmest
bulwarks, and, in the greatest of them all, its great de-
fender. With Virginia, who, by her resolutions of 1798,
inserted the wedge, which, from that day, she has driven
deeper and nearer to the heart of the Union ; with
South Carolina, which, more than thirty years ago, set
up the standard of revolt, and has been laboring for a
generation, with persistent malignity and folly, to destroy
the Government she had felt only in its blessings ; with
the Gulf States, who are seeking, by a rebellion re-
morseless and bloody, to plunge themselves and the
country into the gulf of woe and perdition ; with these.
Union is possible and desirable, but not with the Puri-
tans of New England !

Leave them to perish on their granite, ice-bound
peaks ! Theirs is a restless spirit, the very genius of
discontent. They disturbed the repose of the Tudors ;
they reformed the Reformation ; they took from one
Stuart his head, and from another his throne; they
secured Magna Carta ; they gave to civil liberty the
Petition of Right ; they left merry England in the hey-
day of its material prosperity, where, could they have
appreciated the tranquillity of despotism, they might
have laughed and grown fat; they left the homes of
childhood, the graves of fathers, and faced ocean, wil-
derness, want, the savage foe, merely to pray as the
spirit taught them to pray. Shn^^Ie men, they might
have worshipped God in solemn temples, in cathedral
aisles, the eye ravished with beauty, and the ear with
music. They sought rather the rude log-house in the
forest, or the temple not made with hands ; preferring


to royal favor the favor of the King of kings. They
planted their humble commonwealths upon a sterile soil
and in an inhospitable climate. Their institutions were
laid on the rough granite of English liberty. Instead of
seeking to bask in royal sunshine, they stood out in the
cold, and contrived to bar their doors, not only against
intruders, but against the king. Loyal to the crown
when the crown let them alone, they maintained, from
the beginning, a substantial, sturdy independence.
When separation came, it is among the most striking
things in history to observe how slight changes in the
framework of government were necessary. For ninety
years, Mr. Speaker, their destinies have been blended
with those of the other colonies. From many States
sprung up one nation. To-day, New England finds
upon her soil more than three millions of free, intel-
ligent, happy people. A million of living men born
upon that soil have their homes in the other States.
One-third of the population of the United States is of
New-England descent ; its ancestral graves and memories
with us.

The Puritans have borne with them toward the setting
sun the institutions, the manners, the culture of New
England ; the meeting-house, the town-house, the com-
mon school, the college, the village library. They were
not without the weaknesses and follies of their time,
and follies their own ; but in spite of these, and over and
above these, they had the elements of character which
fit men to be the founders of empire, — conditores impe-
rioru7)i, — firmness, courage, prophetic sagacity, serene,
unfaltering trust in God. And they were the founders


of an empire ; a beneficent, a glorious, let us pray the
infinite Lawgiver, an enduring empire.

But I forget, Mr. Speaker : wise men have discovered
not only that the sun has spots, but that it is tke spots
that make up the sun ; and that, after all, there is no
light or life or healing in his beams ; that the clothes
are more than the man, the outward more than the
inward, the accidental and temporary more than the vital
and permanent. The history of three centuries is to
be rewritten ; the judgment of the civilized world to be
reversed ; the House of Stuart to be recanonized ; the
locks of the Cavalier to be recurled, and the Round-
head again set upon the stocks for the rabble to pelt.
The task is formidable ; but as wit has a keen edge, and
error and calumny are swift of foot, it may be well to
notice briefly some items of the great debt we owe to the
Puritans and their descendants, and some of the grounds
of attack.

The debt which personal liberty owes to the Puritans
can scarcely be overstated. By liberty I mean no philo-
sophical abstractions, no platitudes of French philoso-
phy, but practical, personal freedom, intrenched in,
and defined and upheld by, sovereign law ; the sense and
right of security which makes a man's house his castle,
and his person sacred ; a man's right to life, property,
the use of his brain and of his lips, within the pale of
the law, and unless deprived of them by due process
of law ; the right without which all the forms and
machinery of free government are mockery, delusion,
and fraud. It is to the Puritans of the time of Charles
I. we owe the great Petition of Right, to whose lofty


yet eminently practical ideas of liberty our times have
not climbed.

Let me ask the Clerk to read the passages I have
marked^ Observe, Mr. Speaker, how history repeats
itself. " I praised the dead who are already dead more
than the living who are yet alive."

" Whereas also, by the statute called the Great Charter of the
liberties of England, it is declared and enacted, that no freeman may-
be taken or imprisoned, or be disseized of his freehold or liberties or
his free customs, or be outlawed or exiled, or in any manner de-
stroyed, but by the lawful judgment of his peers, or by the laAv of the
land ;

" And, in the eight and twentieth year of the reign of King
Edward III., it was declared and enacted, by authority of Parliament,
that no man, of what estate or condition that he be, should be put out
of his land or tenement, nor taken nor imprisoned nor disinherited,
nor put to death, without being brought to answer by due process of

" Nevertheless, against the tenor of the said statutes, and other the
good laws and statutes of your realm to that end provided, divers of
your subjects have of late been imprisoned without any cause showed ;
and when, for their deliverance, they were brought before justice by
your majesty's writs of habeas corpus, there to undergo and receive as
the court should order, and their keepei's commanded to certify the
causes of their detainer, no cause was certified but that they were
detained by your majesty's special command, signified by the lords of
your Privy Council, and yet were returned back to several prisons,
without being charged with any thing to which they might make
answer according to the law ;

" And whereas also, by the said Great Charter, and other of the
laws and statutes of this your realm, no man ought to be adjudged to
death but by the laws established in this your realm, eitlier by the

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Online LibraryBenjamin Franklin ThomasSpeeches in the second and third sessions of the Thirty-seventh Congress, and in the vacation (Volume 2) → online text (page 13 of 15)